As the SVP of retail strategy at Apple, Angela Ahrendts is one of the highest-ranking executives at the most valuable company in the world. To get that job, she had to leave her post as CEO of Burberry, where she had led a remarkable turnaround to reestablish the company as one of the world's premier luxury fashion brands.
But not everyone thought Ahrendts had what it took to successfully lead others.
Ahrendts recently spoke to ABC journalist Rebecca Jarvis for her popular podcast No Limits. Asked about the worst career advice she ever received, Ahrendts tells of the time she was working at a big corporation and a human resources manager told her that she needed to make changes--like not talking so emotionally with her hands--if she wanted to be considered "CEO material."
So, at the recommendation of the company, Ahrendts traveled to Minneapolis to meet with a coach, where she would be filmed and critiqued.
"I was supposed to be there for a couple of days, and I went for a couple of hours," explains Ahrendts. "By lunchtime the first day, I just looked at them and I said, 'I gotta go. I don't want to be somebody that I'm not. I like me, and I've been pretty successful so far being me and I was raised in a really big family. And, you know, my mom liked me, my friends liked me ... I don't care about a title or a position. You know I have to wake up with me every morning, and I want to be the best version of myself. I don't want to be this person you're trying to make me, so I'm really sorry but I have to go.' So, I left, and literally a month later got the call to become the CEO of Burberry."
Borrowing from Shakespeare, Ahrendts then sums up the lesson in a single, beautiful sentence:
"So, I just think that to thyself be true."
Why authenticity matters
In my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I use Ahrendts's story and advice to illustrate the value of authenticity.
You hear about that a lot--the need to be authentic. But what does that even mean?
Authentic people share their true thoughts and feelings with others. They know not everyone will agree with them, and they realize this is OK. They also realize that they aren't perfect, but they're willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too. By showing their flaws, while accepting others for who they are, authentic individuals create trust.
Authenticity doesn't mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
So, don't let someone tell you that you're not the right "material" for anything. Learning and growth do not have to take place at the expense of losing yourself in the process.
Instead, take a page out of Angela Ahrendts's playbook, and keep it real.
Not everyone will appreciate you. But the ones who matter will.